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Updated: February 2, 2014 02:26 IST

Chennai’s own publishing icon

B. Kolappan
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Putparatha Chettiyar
Special Arrangement
Putparatha Chettiyar

Putparatha Chettiar published rare works with notes, translation

The city today is a hub for book publishing and the increase in the number of publishers who participated in the book fair in January is testimony to the technology available for printing in Chennai. But nearly 150 years ago, a man by the name of Putparatha Chettiar published ancient literary works including the Naladiyar and Thirikadugam, complete with English notes.

The name of his printing press was Kalarathnakaram Atchukoodam and it functioned from Thambu Chetty street, in North Chennai.

“He was very famous and his house was known as Achapeeskarar veedu (publisher’s house). From 1866, he published all the works with elaborate notes and translations so that the English rulers could access it,” said P. Saravaran, a Tamil teacher, who has republished Putparatha Chettiar’s Naladiyar and Thirikadugam.

Mr. Saravanan said Chettiar also published many of the Pathinenkeezh Kanakku works, mostly penned by the Jain Tamil scholars.

Chettiar’s efforts were particularly significant as U.V. Swaminatha Iyer, whose tireless efforts saved innumerable ancient literary works that would have otherwise been destroyed by termites, had not published the Pathinenkeezh Kanakku.

But barring Naladiyar and Thirukadugam, none of the other works published by Chettiar can be traced.

The books published by him just bore the door number: 289, Thambu Chetty Street and the name of K.R. Press.

Chettiar’s standing in the field of printing and publishing can be explained by the fact that C.W. Thamodharam Pillai, who edited and published some of the oldest works of classical Tamil poetry and grammar, had printed Tholkappiyam, with Senavaryar Uravai, from Kalarathankaram Achukoodam.

Another person who left an unforgettable mark in printing and publishing was Arumuga Navalar of Jaffna. Though Navalar visited Tamil Nadu only five times in his life between 1822 and 1879, he set up a printing press in the Mint Street and Vidyanubhalana Achaenthirachalai was there till recently.

“Both Chettiar and Navalar were contemporaries. Navalar had printing presses in Chennai and Chidambaram,” said Mr. Saravanan. Navalar published his first book as early as in 1849.

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